How I’m Overcoming Life’s Obstacles and Earning my Degree
I was one of those people that never knew what they wanted to do for a living. It wasn’t until I became a wife and mother that I realized just how important it was to have financial independence. When our son was two months old, my husband was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That was a wake-up call. I needed to step up to the plate and get my degree if we were going to survive. So, at the age of 25, I took stock of my strengths and skills and went back to school to earn my degree in Nursing.
As I began my research, I could see the challenges ahead of me. First of all, I was never a great student. In high school I got mostly B’s and C’s, even a few D’s. In Portland, OR, where I’m from, nursing is a highly competitive field. Getting into nursing school would mean getting as many A’s as humanly possible. On top of that, I had to take prerequisite classes, apply for financial aid, and arrange childcare.
At first, my husband did not like the idea of me going back to school and was not supportive. He was upset with me and concerned about the time I’d spend away from him and my son, but I was insistent. I knew what I had to do. As hard as it was, I stood up to him and eventually he gave in.
From there, I set an appointment with an adviser at the local community college. She was very helpful and guided me through my first steps. The most useful thing I did was attend an information session for nursing school. There, they explained exactly what needed to be done and what it would take to be accepted into the coveted nursing program.
The first thing I had to do was take the placement exam, which felt scary. To prepare, I checked out a book at the city library over the summer to refresh my algebra. Luckily that was enough to help me. I placed in Math 95, the only math prerequisite necessary for the nursing program. I placed in the writing classes I needed, and realized I was a better writer than I initially thought. When it came time to sign up for classes, I decided I would only take two classes at a time. That way, I was available to my two-year-old son and had the time I knew I would need to get an A.
One of the most important pieces in all of this is the financial aid: applying for it, understanding it, and managing it. The application was, at times, arduous and difficult to fill out. I made sure to file an application in January for the following fall term. This got me in line for grants that were available to students in my state. FAFSA was also a big help. With it, I was able to get a $5000 Federal Pell Grant for full-time enrollment (I only went part-time, so the amount was reduced accordingly). The state grants I received also helped.
Next, I had to arrange for my son’s childcare and my transportation to and from school. I signed my son up at the YMCA childcare near my house and bought a discounted student bus pass. Three months of part-time childcare cost me $1500 and the pass cost $170. Both were paid for with my financial aid. At times, it felt difficult spending large chunks of money at a time when our family was on food stamps and welfare.
The most difficult aspect of going back to school to start a new career is simply sticking with the program. It is easy to get discouraged unless you work on it and guard against it. Classwork can feel hard and studying can be exhausting. Balancing school with family and work felt overwhelming at times. Nevertheless, I’ve learned to push myself forward regardless of the challenges.
I had to sacrifice a lot of free time, but it’s like they say: no pain, no gain. Growth is a painful process, and there is no growth without hard work. So, no matter how hard it gets, it’s of the utmost importance to stay with the plan and keep going until you are done.
Even with all the sacrifices I’ve had to make, they were not always supported by loved ones. Then, life happens. Four months before I started the nursing program. I separated from my husband. The most demanding year of my education was simultaneously spent going through my divorce. In the second year of the program, my mother died from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I had to take time off from school to be with family. The return to school after losing my mother was by far the most difficult challenge, but I persevered. I kept her memory in heart and mind, remembering her saying: “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your graduation… but you get it!” Nothing was going to stop me from completing my degree!
If you make going to school and doing the work your top priority, you’ll make it through. I rearranged my life in order to get it done, and I’m very glad I did. If I can do it, so can you! I graduated from Mt. Hood Community College with an Associate of Applied Science in 2016. My first nursing job began in September 2016. This fall, I’ll be completing my degree in an RN to BSN program. ONE MORE YEAR! Words do not explain the pride and confidence I have gained through this process, and… there is more to come.
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